Pat Cummins Esquire Australia

I WAS 15 YEARS old at the time. We were away from home on a hockey tour and our coach had cornered me. I knew exactly what he wanted to talk about: with the senior boys about to graduate, we needed a new captain to lead the team. After years of patient waiting, my time had finally come. And I had my pitch ready to go. Then, my coach said something I didn’t see coming: “You know, the best captains never want to be captains in the first place,” he told me.

That threw me. You see, I did want to be captain. Desperately so. I wanted to wear the armband and be known not just as a good player, but as a good captain. A leader. And, if I’m honest, I thought I deserved the job. But in that moment, I froze. I mumbled agreement as it was explained to me that the best captains take on the mantle reluctantly; they do it not for the accolades but because they understand that with that privilege comes responsibility.

I never did get the armband. In fact, it went to my best mate—brutal, I know. But that conversation has stuck with me ever since. It was a reminder that titles mean nothing; it’s what you do with them that matters. My desire to be captain was about me looking cool in front of my friends rather than recognising the good I could do in leading a group of my peers. I wanted the fame, not the responsibility.

I’ve thought about that episode a lot while observing Pat Cummins over the past 12 months. Winning the World Cup, retaining the Ashes, being recognised as the best bowler in the world: it’s been a hell of a year for the 30-year-old from the Blue Mountains. But, as is the burden of his position, Cummins’ platform extends far beyond the wicket, making his performances in press conferences just as impactful as those on the field.

“I feel a real responsibility as a captain, as an Australian player, to leave cricket in a really good place,” Cummins tells Esquire. “But the same with other causes. You’re an adult, you’ve got a voice, kids look up to you. I feel like there is some level of responsibility to try and do what’s best.”

His opinions may not always endear him to everyone, but that’s the point. He’s not speaking up about societal issues because he enjoys stoking the fire, but because he feels compelled. Unlike me, Cummins didn’t seek out the limelight; it was thrust upon him. The same could be said for another one of this issue’s stars, the comedian Bassem Youssef. Following an unlikely appearance on Piers Morgan Uncensored, discussing the war in Gaza, the Egyptian suddenly found himself a voice for the dispossessed. “I do what I do because I feel it is the right thing,” he says, as if it really is that simple.

And maybe it is. After all, as Cummins says, we all have a voice. It takes a leader to know how to use it.

Editor’s portrait: Tristan Stefan Edouard.

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